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Jan 3, 2023

Comet To Make First, And Likely Only, Appearance in Recorded History

Here is a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime event. In fact, it will be a once-in-many-lifetimes event:

A comet discovered less than a year ago has traveled billions of miles from its believed origins at the edge of our solar system and will be visible in just a few weeks during what will likely be its only recorded appearance. The comet, C/2022 E3 (ZTF), was first seen in March 2022 as it made its way through Jupiter’s orbit. According to NASA, it’s a long-period comet believed to come from the Oort Cloud, the most distant region of Earth’s solar system that’s “like a big, thick-walled bubble made of icy pieces of space debris” that can get even bigger than mountains. The inner edge of this region is thought to be between 2,000 and 5,000 astronomical units (AUs) from the sun — between 186 billion and 465 billion miles.

This means that C/2022 E3 (ZTF) has made a rare, once-in-a-lifetime journey to be close to Earth. “Most known long-period comets have been seen only once in recorded history because their orbital periods are so, well, long,” NASA says. “Countless more unknown long-period comets have never been seen by human eyes. Some have orbits so long that the last time they passed through the inner solar system, our species did not yet exist.” 

Now, the recently discovered E3 comet, which has been seen with a bright greenish coma and “short broad” dust tail, is set to make its closest approach to the sun on January 12. It will make its closest approach to Earth on February 2. Astrophotographer Dan Bartlett managed to capture an image of the comet in December from his backyard in California. He was able to see “intricate tail structure” in the comet’s plasma tail, he said, and “conditions are improving.”

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